Westchester County resident Liz Callaway — who will be performing her new show “A Hymn to Her” at Feinstein’s/54 Below in December — is a familiar voice and face to fans of Broadway, cabaret and animated movie musicals.
From her Broadway debut in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along” to singing the Oscar-nominated “Journey to the Past” from the beloved animated feature “Anastasia,” Callaway has demonstrated exceptional vocal abilities that have been at the center of her performance career. She can also be heard singing with her sister, Ann Hampton Callaway, on the “Broadway For Orlando” recording of “What The World Needs Now Is Love.”
WAG recently spoke with Callaway about her career and the upcoming concert.
Liz, you released the CD “The Essential Liz Callaway (Working Girl)” in 2015. What was involved in the song selection for the album?
“It was difficult. I wanted to make a, for lack of a better phrase, a ‘best of Liz.’ Also, because I do so many concerts, rather than drag all of these different CDs around, let me see if a can come up with something that represents what I’ve done. I made a big list. I did a query on Facebook and Twitter. It always helps to have people’s suggestions. I knew I wanted to do a few new songs that I hadn’t done before, so I did a live concert at The Metropolitan Room to get one song that I knew needed to be a live performance. That went so well that I ended up using four songs from that concert.”
We’re glad you did! There is a whole generation of fans who know you from your film work — providing the singing voices in animated features such as “Anastasia” and “The Swan Princess.” What does it mean to you to be associated with these films?
“I love it. I had no idea that that would be such a huge part of my career. Wherever I go, people know me from those movies, particularly young people. I really want to nurture a relationship with a younger generation so that they know my music. I teach a lot of master classes when I go around the country and internationally when I do concerts. It’s amazing how many people talk about ‘Anastasia’ in particular. They say it’s the soundtrack to their childhood. It’s one of my favorite jobs that I ever had. It’s the same thing as having CDs — having movies that are a permanent record of something.”
Speaking of “Anastasia,” we noticed that “Journey to the Past” — the single of your duet with Christy Altomare, who is currently starring in the Broadway production of “Anastasia” — was released on Sept 28. How did that come to pass?
“Actually, I’m producing it. It came to pass because I sang with Christy at ‘The Broadway Princess Party,’ which was created by Laura Osnes and Benjamin Rauhala. It’s a show they’ve done in New York at Feinstein’s/54 Below where they get people who’ve played princesses on Broadway or in animated movies, such as Susan Egan, who played Belle in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (to perform). They’re actually touring the country with it now. They’ve asked me to do it a couple of times and I wasn’t able to do it. They invited me to do it in May (2018) and Christy, as well. That was the first time we sang together. Benjamin created an arrangement of ‘Journey To The Past.’ When we were rehearsing, I filmed a crappy little video on my phone of us rehearsing and I put it up on social media and it went crazy. The idea that the original voice from the movie was singing with the voice from Broadway struck a chord with people. After we did the performance, which was so much fun, I thought we really need to have this for posterity. I produced my last two albums. I’ve been wanting to produce some singles and I thought this would be a perfect one to start with.”
Now that the stage adaptation of “Anastasia” has opened on Broadway, how many performances have you attended?
“I have attended two performances. I went to the opening in Hartford when they first did it. Then I went to the opening night on Broadway. On a recent Friday night, I watched some from the wings, but the rest I listened to from backstage. I’m actually planning to see it again soon because there are some new cast members who are friends of mine. It’s an excuse to go see it again.”
You and your sister Ann Hampton Callaway both have established music careers. Was it a given that you would also perform together, as you are doing later this month, or did one of you have to convince the other that it would be a good idea?
“The answer to that is that it was absolutely not a given. Not at all. When we were growing up (in the Chicago area), I was the super-shy one. I wouldn’t perform in front of anyone unless my family would leave the house. Ann always knew she was going to be a performer. I didn’t start doing theater until midway through high school. Ann and I didn’t become super-close until she went off to college. Then we moved to New York together. In fact, today is the 39th anniversary of my moving to New York. I was 18 and Ann was 21. She moved three days earlier. She started working at a piano bar and at the end of the night, if I had a couple of cocktails — the drinking age was 18 back then — I might get up and do a couple of songs with her.
“But it was still really hard for me to perform in front of people. Then I started doing Broadway and was doing cabaret. She said, ‘We really need to do something together.’ She got a date for us at the old Russian Tea Room. We didn’t have a show. Like anything, you get the date and then figure it out afterwards. We did two nights and it was so much fun. She said, ‘We have to do this again.’ We got a date at Rainbow & Stars and put together ‘Sibling Revelry.’ We have sort of never stopped. Whenever we can perform together, we do. I’m even more grateful than ever to have this show because Ann just moved to Tucson — which is hard for me because we were living five minutes away from each other in Westchester. Now, in particular, we are trying to get as many jobs as we can so we can have an excuse to see each other.”
Your new show, “A Hymn to Her,” is a tribute to women such as Eydie Gormé, Barbara Cook, Carole King, Billie Jean King, Julia Child and Meryl Streep, who have inspired you to become the woman you are. How did the concept for the show come about?
“I’ve always wanted to do a show like this. There are certain women who have meant a lot to me. Even Eydie Gormé: As a child she was someone I’d sing along with when my family would leave the house. I think it’s interesting that as a child I gravitated towards torch songs the way she sang them. Last year, I set a goal for myself to be more prolific musically. I want to challenge myself to do more shows and more new music. Feinstein’s/54 Below invited me to come back and do another show. Again, I said I’d do it and then I’d figure it out afterwards, like when I worked with Ann for the first time. Then my husband came up with the title, ‘A Hymn to Her,’ and then I had to create the show. I love the show. It’s a chance to be a little autobiographical and to thank the women who have inspired me.”
How does Billie Jean King, whom WAG profiled in our June issue, figure into the show?
“In addition to being a big tennis fan, I admire her so much, not just what she’s done for women, but for equality for everyone. I was able to have a phone call with her and I asked her if she had a favorite song. A song that she loves, which ended being my favorite thing to do in my show is “What About Us?” by Pink, which I didn’t know until she told me about it. Not only did I get to talk about an inspiration, but she inspired me to try something new — which is what I want to do now in my career; take some chances and try new things, whether it’s onstage or with recording new projects or things like that.”
Finally, Liz, would you mind saying a few words about what you like best about life in Westchester?
“I love living in Westchester, because it’s beautiful. There’s a wonderful community here. My husband (Dan Foster) has a theater company in Westchester called Hudson Stage Company. We just did their annual gala. They celebrated their 20th year. I’m very involved with that. I love New York City. I’m there all the time, but there’s so much in Westchester in the arts and great restaurants and theater and music. Personally, I love New York City, but I love to leave it at the end of the day. I just love living in Westchester.”